By: Ethan Hill
November 27, 2023
Photo Credit: Sportico.com
During the 2023 NBA offseason, the league announced that the 2023-24 NBA season would feature a new event called the In-Season Tournament. The tournament includes a group stage to be played in the early stages of the season and knockout rounds to be played later on in Las Vegas, Nevada. The style is remarkably similar to the format of the FIFA World Cup, and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver credited the sport of international soccer as inspiration for this new event. The announcement left many fans equal parts puzzled and curious about how the tournament would unfold.
Now, a couple weeks into group stage play, it’s already clear that the In-Season Tournament has successfully provided an increased (and needed) element of excitement to the start of the NBA’s regular season. This is due to not just the competitiveness of the tournament, but also the result of an impressive marketing campaign rolled out by the league.
One way in which the NBA has marketed In-Season Tournament games is pointing out the difference between tournament games and regular season games on each team’s schedule. Since the announcement of the tournament, the NBA has accomplished this by unveiling unique In-Season Tournament courts and jerseys for every team in the league. This is the first time in league history that the NBA has assigned alternate courts to all 30 teams. These courts and uniforms are certainly eye-catching, as they are much more colorful and experimental than teams’ regular courts, and therefore succeed in adding to the spectacle of the event.
In addition to these visual changes, the NBA has also unveiled an impressive advertising campaign they’re calling “The Heist”. This campaign features a short film in which a number of NBA All-Stars and award-winning actor Michael Imperioli (best known for his work in “The Sopranos” and “The White Lotus”, both of which are properties of HBO) scheme out an “Ocean’s 11"-style heist for the NBA Cup, the prize for the winner of the tournament, on the floor of a Las Vegas casino. The NBA players in the film include Anthony Davis, DeMar DeRozan, Darius Garland, Draymond Green, Kawhi Leonard, Trae Young, and Julius Randle. The film introduces each player and their strategy to successfully pull off a heist of the NBA Cup. The film is also filled with references to each player’s playing style and career accolades. The NBA will reveal more parts of “The Heist” series as the tournament progresses, with more scenes of the film set to release upon the arrival of the knockout stages.
While the marketing efforts of the NBA to promote this tournament has been captivating and engaging, the important question is whether these tactics are working. If game viewership statistics are any indication, the answer is a resounding yes. According to the NBA’s PR team, the In-Season Tournament has increased game viewership on ESPN by 55% (1.1 to 1.7 million) in comparison to the games played during the same time frame last season. The highest viewed In-Season Tournament game thus far was the Los Angeles Lakers’ matchup against the Phoenix Suns, which drew 1.93 million viewers. That number was a 73% increase from the most popular regular season game from the corresponding day during last season. In addition to increasing viewership, the In-Season Tournament has also generated a surplus of social media buzz, with fans and followers sharing their opinions on both the new court designs and the enhanced competitive environment of the tournament games.
As the tournament continues to progress, it will be intriguing to see what other marketing schemes the NBA has in store. All signs point to continued success for the NBA's first-ever In-Season Tournament as viewership numbers grow and fans continue demonstrating an increased rate of engagement with NBA content.